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IATTC research laboratory in Achotines. (Photo: IATTC/FIS)

First international air shipment of yellowfin eggs and larvae

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Thursday, March 24, 2011, 22:10 (GMT + 9)

Researchers at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) recently completed the first successful air shipments of yellowfin tuna eggs and larvae into the United States.

The eggs and larvae are being used in a joint effort to advance the hatchery technologies for this very popular food fish.

The parental stock of tuna resides at the IATTC’s research laboratory in Achotines, Panama, where adult tuna have been spawning in captivity since 1996.

The success of this effort is significant as world-wide there are very few captive breeding populations of tuna, the ability to ship eggs and larvae over great distances will open a host of opportunities to work with these delicate, high performance fish.

The shipments mark the first time that eggs and larvae of yellowfin tuna have been successfully air shipped internationally.

Aereal view of IATTC research laboratory in Achotines. (Photo: IATTC)

Yellowfin tuna, or “ahi”, is one of the most popular fish on restaurant menus worldwide. As human populations and appetite increase for tunas and other popular ocean fish, it is well recognized that traditional capture fisheries may not sustainably meet that demand.

Currently, adult tuna collected from the wild are fattened in cages in various locations around the world in an industry that has successfully hybridized fishing and farming.

If eggs from captive brood fish can be grown to juveniles for stocking into the cages, then wild fish would not need to be harvested for these fattening operations, thus relieving fishing pressure on wild stocks.

In addition to advancing hatchery technologies, having various life stages of tuna available for laboratory study will greatly facilitate an understanding of their biology and ecology.

This information can then be used to better manage tuna populations. Advancing the culture technology for tuna is of common interest to both San Diego-based research groups.

The IATTC team brings all of its expertise in the biology of tunas, as well as 15 years of captive breeding and culture experience to the project.

The IATTC research goal is to obtain knowledge of the biology and ecology in the early life stages of tuna to improve the capability to sustainably manage wild populations.

HSWRI researchers have been culturing marine fish for more than 30 years with an emphasis on demonstrating mass production capabilities coupled with environmental responsibility.

Thus far in the project, the research teams have conducted numerous shipping simulations using eggs and larvae of yellowfin tuna in Achotines and yellowtail jack in San Diego.

These trials are used to determine the maximum stocking densities that can be shipped with good survival. This has led to several air shipments of tuna eggs and larvae, which required a significant amount of logistical coordination on both ends.

The most recent shipment during February 2011 took 24 hours to complete and yielded survival rates following shipment as high as 90 per cent.

Larval rearing success at HSWRI has improved incrementally with each shipment as researchers make refinements to meet the needs of these delicate larvae.

This research is being funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Saltonstall-Kennedy Program.

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